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Lillian Herstein

HERSTEIN, LILLIAN (1886–1983), education advocate, union organizer, and life-long activist for social justice. Herstein was the youngest of six children in a Lithuanian-Jewish immigrant family. Her father, Wolf, worked as the sextant of a synagogue, while her mother, Cipe, owned and managed a Hebrew bookstore. Herstein's mother and siblings struggled to keep her in school after Wolf 's death in 1898, and she graduated from Northwestern University in 1907.

The reluctance of the Chicago school system to hire Jews forced Herstein to teach in small rural schools before securing a position in Chicago in 1912. She immediately joined the Federation of Women High School Teachers union, and soon became its delegate to the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL). When the Chicago Teachers' Union was created in 1937, Herstein became its representative to the CFL, where she was the only woman on the executive board for 25 years.

Herstein's activism soon expanded beyond the world of education. She worked in close conjunction with the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL), helping to organize workers, from newspaper reporters to coalminers, into unions. A powerful speaker, Herstein often expressed her views on the radio and on speakers' circuits. It was through the WTUL that Herstein became involved in a workers' education movement that gained momentum in the interwar years. She taught English and public speaking at the Chicago Labor College, a joint venture of the WTUL and CFL, as well as in workers' summer-school programs at both Bryn Mawr College and the University of Wisconsin. Herstein also taught at Chicago's Crane Junior College, where she inspired future Supreme Court Justice Arthur *Goldberg to become a labor lawyer. Herstein successfully fought to keep the free junior college system open during the Depression. Less successful were several bids for both state and federal offices, including a 1932 campaign for the U.S. Congress.

After her retirement from teaching in 1952, Herstein's activism turned towards civil rights and race relations. Her work with the Jewish Labor Committee on integrating the building trades earned her an award from the Chicago Commission on Human Relations in 1953. An active member of the American Civil Liberties Union, Herstein was also involved in Jewish workers' and women's organizations, including the *Histadrut, *Hadassah, and the *National Council of Jewish Women.


N. Spungen. "Herstein, Lillian," in: P.E. Hyman and D. Dash Moore, Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, vol. 1 (1997), 624–25; J.L. Kornbluh, A New Deal for Workers' Education: The Workers' Service Program, 19331942. (1987); R.H. Zieger and G.J. Gall. American Workers, American Unions: The Twentieth Century (2002).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.